London welcomes chief digital officer

Theo Blackwell, policy fellow at Public and cabinet lead for technology at Camden council, is to be London’s first chief digital officer. Mayor of London Sadiq Khan confirmed Blackwell’s appointment to the £107,000 role on Friday.

theo blackwellAs London’s first CDO, Blackwell will play a leading role in realising the mayor’s ambition to make London “the world’s smartest city”, ensuring that the capital’s status as a global tech hub helps transform the way public services are designed and delivered, making them “more accessible, efficient and responsive to the needs of Londoners”.

The appointment of the new CDO fulfils a manifesto commitment made by Khan before he was elected last year. The role commands a salary of £107,000.

Blackwell brings more than 20 years of experience in technology and digital transformation in both the public and private sector.  In his role as cabinet member for finance, technology and growth at Camden Council, Blackwell helped established Camden as London’s leading digital borough through its use of public data. This year Camden was named Digital Leaders council of the year.

Blackwell also sits on the advisory board of Digital Leaders and is a director of Camden Town Unlimited, a business improvement district that has pioneered new startup incubation in ‘meanwhile’ space.

He joins the mayor’s team following work at Public, advising startups on the growing market in local public services, and was previously head of policy and public affairs for video games industry trade body Ukie, where he ran its Next Gen Skills campaign, alongside Ian Livingstone, to get coding back on the curriculum.

In a statement, the mayor confirmed that London’s chief digital officer will:

  • Provide strategic leadership on the digital transformation agenda for London’s public services, across the GLA group and the wider public sector.
  • Convene on behalf of the mayor, across London local government, to build support for and take-up of innovative, technology and data-led approaches to service delivery and public engagement.
  • Develop and promote partnership between the public, private and community sectors to enable and support the development of new public service oriented technology and innovation.

Blackwell’s start date is still to be confirmed, though it is understood that Camden Council is planning a by-election that will elect his replacement as a councillor at the end of September.

Blackwell is set to work closely with the mayor’s Smart London Board to develop a new ‘Smart London Plan’, and will play a central role in building collaboration across London’s boroughs, and businesses, to drive the digital transformation of public services, as well as supporting the spread of innovation through common technology standards and better data sharing.

He will promote the mayor’s manifesto ambitions around pan-London collaboration on connectivity, digital inclusion, cyber-security and open data. He will also focus on scoping work for the London Office for Technology & Innovation that was announced by the mayor during this year’s London Tech Week.

London has more than 47,000 digital technology companies, employing approximately 240,000 people. It is forecast that the number of tech companies will increase by a third and a further 44,500 jobs will have been created by 2026.

The capital’s public authorities are pressing ahead with plans to deploy new technologies, using it for ticketing and contactless on the transport network, while the London Datastore is an open resource with vast amounts of data about all areas of the city, and tech start-ups have used this open data to create innovative new apps.

Khan said: “I am determined to make London the world’s leading smart city, with digital technology and data at the heart of making our capital a better place to live, work and visit. We already lead in digital technology, data science and innovation and I want us to make full use of this in transforming our public services for Londoners and the millions of visitors to our great city.

Blackwell said: “The new chief digital officer post is an amazing opportunity to make our capital even more open to innovation, support jobs and investment and make our public services more effective. The pace of change over the next decade requires public services to develop a stronger relationship with the tech sector.

“Our purpose is to fully harness London’s world-class potential to make our public services faster and more reliable at doing things we expect online, but also adaptable enough to overcome the capital’s most complex challenges.”

Antony Walker, deputy CEO of techUK, said: “techUK has long argued that London needed a chief digital officer to ensure that London makes the best possible use of new digital technologies. The appointment of Theo Blackwell is good news for Londoners.”

Read Theo Blackwell’s blog on Medium